2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry: The Lithium-Ion Battery

Angelina Xu ‘21

On October 9th, The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to John B. Goodenough, M. Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino for the development of lithium-ion batteries.


From mobile phones to laptops to electric vehicles, the lithium-ion battery has revolutionized technology in creating high-potential, lightweight batteries with great versatility, evidenced by their widespread use in everyday life.  In addition, these batteries have also enabled the storage of renewable energy from solar and wind power.


Laying the foundations of the battery in the 1970s, Whittingham aimed to develop fossil-fuel-free energy technologies during the oil crisis to ameliorate the nation’s grave, resulting in economic stagnation.  While researching for superconductors (materials that have virtually no electrical resistance, a property that would increase conductivity efficiency), Whittingham discovered that titanium disulfide combined with lithium ions at the cathode and metallic lithium at the anode could create an extremely energy-rich battery.


Goodenough improved upon this model in 1980 by substituting the previously used titanium disulfide with a new compound: cobalt oxide.  This effectively doubled the voltage from two volts to four volts, packing much more energy than before into a small battery.


In 1985, Yoshino made the final revision to the first commercially viable lithium-ion battery by replacing the explosively reactive lithium at the anode with petroleum coke, consequently creating a lightweight and durable battery that could be re-charged hundreds of times before its performance deteriorates.


Since its debut on the market in 1991, the lithium-ion battery has permeated all aspects of our wireless and clean-energy society – a novelty with resounding and ineffaceable impacts.